Leave the Light On … please

Back home after decades away, the smell of wood
in his garage workroom overpowers as I de-clutter
for my father, now one hundred. But I won’t open
the door there to clear away memory under the house.

I can hear the adults talking,
floorboards only a few feet above.
Earth smell is damp and cold.
It is very dark. Imagine a grave.
He is eighteen, next-door-but-two.
I am eleven. I don’t remember how
I was lured here. Small hummocks
of dirt press into my back.
He is heavy. He rubs on top of me,
hard. I will worry for weeks,
do girls get pregnant that way?
I had been to mother and daughter talks
at the church on our corner, white
with a really tall pointed steeple.
Diagrams showed seeds dropping
from the outline of a woman,
tadpoles from the outline of a man.
They met in the free air. Then, there was
a baby. It was a miracle, if you were married.
He wants me to say it. You like it don’t you?
Don’t you? I squirm. I push. Just say it!
I hear the adults deaf above, laughing.
Come on, you like it, don’t you! Pinned,
rigid with terror – yes, yes. He laughs.

Fear is the air you breathe, just before the moment
you know there’s danger. Twisted scrimshaw,
it would live in my bones for years.
I would need the light on, even with love.

Robyn Rowland

Listen to Robyn reading ‘Leave the Light On … please’ (2:34).

Robyn Rowland has 14 books, 11 of poetry, most recently Under This Saffron Sun – Safran Güneşin Altında, Turkish translations by Mehmet Ali Çelikel (Knocknarone Press, Ireland, 2019); Mosaics from the Map, (Doire Press, Ireland 2018) and This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915, Turkish translations by Mehmet Ali Çelikel, (FIP, Australia; Bilge Kultur Sanat 2015; Spinifex Press 2018). Her poetry appears in national and international journals, in over forty anthologies, and in eight editions of Best Australian Poems. Her work can be viewed on film at the National Irish Poetry Reading Archive, James Joyce Library, UCD, (available on YouTube).

© text and audio 2020